Gender aspects in the water sector diverge greatly according to international context and in terms of their severity and relevance, since the amount of water available, its consumption and access is distributed extremely unevenly between regions. For the countries of the Global South, the gender dimensions in the water sector are very well studied and addressed accordingly in a variet o programs and activities in the field of development cooperation. For European countrues, however, the availability gender-disaggregated data is still limited.
In the European context, gender dimensions are particularly evident in terms of participation and power relations. It is well established that there is an unequal gender balance in municipal and private water and waste-water companies, where women are clearly underrepresented. Thus, decisions about appropriate technologies and infrastructures are made almost exclusively by men. The reality of life for women and needs that are linked to care work are therefore not adequetely taken into account in water management and policy development.
Furthermore, as a result of the EU-wide trend towards privatisation of the water sector , the ability of groups who are already underrepresented to influence and participate in political decsion making is becoming even more limited. In addition, there is concern that the privatisation of the water sector leads to price increases, which is particularly difficult for those with low incomes – including a disproportionate number of women and single parents. It is therefore unsurprising that women and women's organisations around the world have come together to lead the fight against the privatisation of water.
The increasing usage of chemicals in industry, agriculture and households also has a negative impact on the quality of water resources. The effects of water pollution and water scarcity impact poor people more severely, since they have fewer rights and more limited financial resource, and are thus unable to respond appropriately. Contaminated water and a lack of sanitation are causes of many (often deadly) diseases and epidemics, to which women and children are more likely to fall victim. Women are often responsible for the paid and unpaid care of those who are sick, which means that an increase in diseases caused by poor supply of drinking water and sanitation often goes hand in hand with in an increasing burden for women around the world.
Even in Europe , access to clean drinking water and sanitation is not guaranteed everywhere. Around 19 million people do not have access to a safe drinking source and approximately 100 million people live in households without a fixed water connection, predominately in rural areas of Eastern Europe. (Further information on water supplies in Europe is available on the homepage of the WHO Regional Office for Europe www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/water-and-sanitation )
Examples illustrating the complex relationship between water and gender reveal that a consideration of social roles, responsibilities , knowledge and rights (keeping in mind that these can change), is fundamental for sustainable and socially equitable water management. Without it, we cannot claim to have reached gender equality.
- Gender and Water Alliance (GWA)
The Gender and Water Alliance (GWA) advocates the equal access of women and men to drinking water and a sustainable, social just water management.
The website water.org deals with questions of water supply in countries of the Global South. It provides graphics and clear explanations on the issue.
- Insecurity and Indignity: Women's experiences in the slums of Nairobi
"More than half the residents of Nairobi live in informal settlements and slums. Their housing is inadequate and they have little access to clean water, health care and other essential public services. Violence against women is widespread where ineffective policing results in rape and other violence against women going largely unpunished."
This report was published by Amnesty International in 2010 and examines the experiences of women living in slums in Nairobi. It calls on the Kenyan government to address gender-based violence against women and to ensure women's access to sanitation and public security services.
The report "Insecurity and Indignity: Women's experiences in the slums of Nairobi" can be downloaded here.
- wH20 - The Journal of Gender and Water
wH20 is an academic online-journal on women and water hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.
- UN World Water Development Report 2014
The annual United Nations World Water Development Report is the UN's flagship report on water. It gives an overall picture of the state of the world's freshwater resources and aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water.
The focus of the UN World Water Development Report 2014 was "Water and Energy" and contained several references to the nexus of gender equality and access to clean drinking water as well as a call for gender-disaggregated data.
The Report of 2012 with the title "Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risks" made - for the first time ever in a World Water Development Report - a reference to gender perspectives in water management (in chapter 35 "Water & Gender").
- Latest numbers on the supply situation with drinking water and sanitary facilities in Europe
can be accessed on the website of the regional office for Europe of the Wold Health Organization (WHO).
- Women, Rivers and Dams
In March 2011 the magazine of the organization "International Rivers" focused on "Women, Rivers and Dams". One of the subjects was the role of women in social movements fighting for the protection of rivers and against the construction of giant dams. Further, it discussed why healthy, clean rivers are especially important for women and why dams first of all negatively affect women and children.
The issue can be downloaded here.
- Gender-related needs in flood-affected communities in Pakistan
The report "Rapid Gender Needs Assessment of Flood-Affected Communities" by UNIFEM (now UN WOMEN) analyzed data aggregated in the aftermath of the flood catastrophe in Pakistan in 2010.The report chronologically maps gender-related concerns from the onset of floods to current relief camps, identifying gaps in information and flagging issues for upcoming stages of early recovery.The report can be downloaded here.UNIFEM comes to the conclusion that gender concerns need to be fully integrated into relief and recovery operations